Sunday, July 31, 2011

Worrisome and scary photo of the day: India's RSS

The source notes that this was at an RSS Convention in 2009 at Bangalore, where one the participants (and in this photo as well) was Yeddyurappa, who has resigned from his position as the chief minister of Karnataka.

Why is this worrisome and scary?

Definitely not because of the funny shorts, or the odd salute.

It is all because of the RSS--a paramilitary force dedicated to fanatical Hindu nationalism, and ever ready to harm the lives and property of non-Hindus, and Muslims in particular.  The RSS is one of the many Hindu nationalistic groups that are collectively referred to as the Sangh Parivar.

It is one thing when the RSS existed as an organization in the political background, but an entirely different matter when many of the RSS loyalists started getting elected to power through the political party--the BJP.

Noting the rise of these groups, and a corresponding failure of political institutions to pay attention to the minorities, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has placed India on its watch-list, for the third year in a row: 
India‘s democratic institutions, most notably state and central judiciaries and police, fall short in their capacity to uphold the rule of law. In some regions of India, these entities have proven unwilling or unable to seek redress consistently for victims of religiously-motivated violence or to challenge cultures of impunity in areas with a history of communal tensions, which in some cases has helped foster a climate of impunity.
Of course, Yeddyurappa is not even a gnat compared to the notorious Narendra Modi in Gujarat. (More here, and here, for starters)

A far cry from the secular India envisioned by the likes of Gandhi and Nehru.

It is not merely an Indian or an Indo-Pak issue.  The global implications took on an entirely different dimension with the Norwegian terrorist:
Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik hailed India's Hindu nationalist movement as a key ally in a global struggle to bring down democratic regimes across the world.
‘2080: A European declaration of independence' lays out a road map for a future organisation, the Justiciar Knights, to wage a campaign that will graduate from acts of terrorism to a global war involving weapons of mass destruction — aimed at bringing down what Breivik calls the “cultural Marxist” order.
India figures in a remarkable 102 pages of the sprawling 1,518-page manifesto. Breivik's manifesto says his Justiciar Knights “support the Sanatana Dharma movements and Indian nationalists in general.” In section 3.158 of the manifesto, he explains that Hindu nationalists “are suffering from the same persecution by the Indian cultural Marxists as their European cousins.”

When colleges boast of enrollment growth, be scared. Be really, really, scared!

Suppose hospitals boasted about the massive increases in the number of patients who had to be taken care over weeks within their facilities.  The public and the government would be alarmed that either there is something seriously wrong with the hospitals.  More so when heath care costs are soaring.

The increases in in-patient numbers would also make us worry about possible public health epidemics--the possibility that there was something significant that was making people really, really sick.

Fortunately, hospitals don't work that way.  Their goal is not to go into an overdrive and increase the hospitalization rates.  If at all, the complaint often is that hospitals are always too keen on sending patients packing quite early in the rehab stage.

Now, compare that behavior with the trend in another service industry where too costs have risen dramatically: higher education.

As the following chart from Carpe Diem shows, costs of college have outpaced even the much talked about health care costs.

Is all that college tuition worth the investments though?  Not at all. I have blogged enough about this (including this op-ed in the Oregonian.)

Isn't it an unfortunate irony then that the only goal of public colleges and universities seems to be to maximize enrollment!  To use that hospital analogy, more patients, with patients taking longer and longer to get better even while paying high costs, and when they leave the hospital many of them are worse off than when they entered it :(

Yet, again, I find that public universities, like here in Oregon, are only too thrilled about the unheard of and historic growth in the numbers of students.  Only one university seems less concerned about enrollment itself:
It also might be tougher to get in to Portland State University in the future but for different reasons. School officials there have shifted the emphasis from enrollment to retention and graduation, said PSU spokesman David Santen.
Which is how it ought to be--focus on quality patient care, so to say.

Back in 2009, David Leonhardt, who later won a Pulitzer for his succinct analytical writings in the NY Times, observed that a big problem with higher education was:
the focus on enrollment rather than completion, the fact that colleges are not held to account for their failures.
As far as colleges are concerned, it seems to be a variation of the old sarcastic comment, "the operation was successful, but the patient died."

The leaders of educational institutions don't seem to care; in fact, their worry is that there is not enough money coming from the federal government in order to subsidize students:
Current proposals in Congress to cut funding for Pell grants — the federal government’s primary program to help economically disadvantaged students go to college — are shortsighted and could have a devastating effect on students’ access to higher education and work force training, especially in today’s weak economy.
As noble as it might sound, cheap money handed out by the feds ends up benefiting the colleges and not the intended beneficiares--students.  Here is an explanation of how that happens:

[The] U.S. federal government is directly behind the bubble we observe to exist in the cost of U.S. higher education, with federal spending during years of recession effectively insulating U.S. colleges and universities from the nation's economic circumstances by subsidizing their operations.
Nominal Average Annual Tuition and Required Fees vs Median Household Income in the United States, 1976 through 2008 These subsidies, delivered at times of recession, free U.S. higher education institutions to set the price of their tuition independently of their students' ability to pay based upon their or their family's current household income.
The only limiting factor for U.S. higher education institutions then would be the actual growth of U.S. federal spending. This would be why the average cost of college tuition in the United States would appear to have come to track the total level of federal government spending so closely.
As a result, the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed with respect to the typical family's household income. Consequently, when a student attends college today, they must increasingly rely upon subsidies from the federal government that fill the gap between what their institutions charge and what they must pay for out of their own pockets.
So, yes, the college tuition and fees keep increasing, and quite rapidly--an example, also about Oregon, in this news report:

Oregon's seven universities have proposed an average 7.5 percent tuition increase for full-time, resident undergraduate students next year, pushing the average annual cost of tuition and fees to $7,634. ...
The proposed increases, which the State Board of Higher Education is expected to approve Friday, range from 5.1 percent at Western Oregon University to 9 percent at PSU, the University of Oregon and the Oregon Institute of Technology. Proposed increases are 8.1 percent at Oregon State University and 6.8 percent at Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon universities.
Where does all the additional money go?  I suppose we need all that extra money for rock-climbing walls, re-branding, ... who cares if students are screwed in the process, right?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The strengthening democracy in the Islamic world: Turkey

When they became independent in 1947, there was a lot of hope for India and Pakistan, which adopted the British parliamentary system.  If only Pakistan had continued on along a democratic path, instead of all the chaotic military rulers who created a whole bunch of unholy alliances that have led to a near-complete de-legitimization of government and social institutions.  A successful Pakistan, on the other hand, could have become a model for so many countries that are overwhelmingly Islamic.  But, that was not to be.

And then there was promise with Egypt.  But then Nasser went all anti-Israel, and soon the country became a property of the military.

A contrast to all that is the case of Turkey, which has slowly outgrown the Kemal Ataturk version of society and governance.  As the Arab Spring bloomed--even in Egypt--and as the rest of the world started wondering whether indeed democracy will take firm roots in the Islamic countries, eyes turned to Turkey as the role model.

Of course, there are some lingering problems within Turkey.  The treatment of Kurds is one serious issue, among others.  But then which country doesn't have problems within its democratic structure.

We need to keep in mind a unique aspect of Turkey's history, which Bernard Lewis pointed out back in the early 1990s:
Turkey alone, it is argued, was never colonized, never subject to imperial rule or domination, as were almost all the Islamic lands of Asia and Africa. The Turks were always masters in their own house, and, indeed, in many other houses, for a long period. When their mastery was finally challenged, they won their war of independence, and are therefore able to achieve a degree of realism, a detachment, and of self-criticism that is not possible in countries where political life was dominated for generations by the struggle for independence, and in which freedom and independence become virtually synonymous terms, to the detriment of the former.
In Turkey, democratic institutions were neither imposed by the victors, as happened in the defeated Axis countries, nor bequeathed by departing imperialists, as happened in the former British and French dependencies, but were introduced by the free choice of the Turks themselves. This surely gave these institutions a much better chance of survival.
So, yes, the odds were in Turkey's favor.  But, there was more to the country's democracy:
Successive governments of Turkey wisely did not attempt to introduce full democracy all at once, but instead went through successive phases of limited democracy, laying the foundation for further development, and, at the same time, encouraging the rise of civil society.
Democracy works really well as a political structure only when it is home-grown. It does not mean all the home-grown ones survive either--Pakistan is a prime example here.  But, the probability of democracy taking hold seems to be higher when it comes from within than from the outside.

Which is all the more why the Arab Spring was, and continues to be, so promising.

But, at the same time, some of the developments in Turkey are not necessarily encouraging:
Politically Turkey has changed more in the last ten years than it did in the previous eighty. For generations the army was able to enforce strict secularism in the tradition of Ataturk, but a new ethos, more open to religious influence, has changed the terms of politics and public life. Erdogan prays daily and his wife wears a headscarf. In some Turkish towns, Justice and Development mayors have sought to restrict the sale of alcohol or establish single-sex beaches. This has alarmed many secular-minded citizens. Erdogan could help calm their fears, but instead he has become increasingly strident. Turkey has emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions. Whether it is moving toward an era of European-style freedom or simply trading one form of authoritarianism for another is unclear.
 The NYRB article concludes thus:
Turkey has great potential as a twenty-first-century power, but can only fulfill it by reuniting its own fragmented society.
The latest development is quite a head-scratcher for me--the military chiefs quit en masse. On the one hand, it could be a sign of the weakened military being subordinate to the democratically elected government.  But, on the other hand, given the relative strengthening of religion in politics, are there enough institutions for the checks and balances that are needed for a successful democracy?

I bet Egypt and Tunisia and the rest are closely following the developments.

What, me worry about getting older? I look forward to it. Here's why ...

My daughter has remarked more than once, when looking at photos of me when I was young: "you looked strange" ... am mighty glad the emphasis was on "looked" which was said in a firm past-tense :)

A friend from my school days comments on the facial transformations I have gone through over the thirty years: "Looking at the other snaps of the Prof I am wondering what metamorphosis age brings in."

If past trends are any indication, then you ain't seen nothin' yet, buddy :)

Speaking of comic strips, another friend noted in response to an earlier post, "comic strips in general. That's one thing I miss when we're in India."  I, too, miss the funny pages when I am away from the US.  And they are not always for the laughs alone--some make me think, like how this BC strip has triggered a blog post!

No other comic strip has made me think as much as Calvin and Hobbes did, and continues to ... like this one, which was originally published on a July 29th (of what year, I know not)

So, hang on little tomato :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Great Recession continues. Here comes the second dip

It is not because of all the brouhaha over the debt ceiling though.

My day started with this BBC news that Apple has a lot more cash than what Uncle Sam has in the treasuries.  It is a staggering billions of dollars that Apple has.  It is yet another statistic on the jobless recovery we have experienced the last two years--corporate profits not translating to job creation.

Commentators like Robert Reich have worried enough about this for all of us.  As Alan Blinder put it forcefully, we have a national job emergency

The situation is getting uglier, not because of the US default possibilities but:
Whatever fear global investors may have about a potential U.S. debt default, it's being trumped for the moment by another fear: that the economy could be headed back into recession.
Money is pouring into Treasury notes and bonds Friday, driving yields down sharply, after the government said the economy grew at a dismally weak annualized rate of 1.3% last quarter -- below even the lousy 1.8% consensus estimate of economists.
Be really, really worried :(

John Cassidy in the New Yorker dares to say it:
I think it is fair to say that the dreaded “double dip” recession is at hand.
And Cassidy is not even "Dr. Doom" ... Cassidy writes:
what we are going through looks suspiciously like the beginnings of another recession. Payrolls, after growing at a monthly rate of more than two hundred thousand jobs earlier in the year, have essentially been flat since the end of April, and the unemployment rate has crept up from 8.8 per cent to 9.2 per cent. The sharp falloff in job growth was a development that very few economists predicted. 
The Economist summarizes it all:

Time to crawl into a cave and hibernate until the end of the elections in 2012.

The unbearable whiteness of being ... an Indian?

If only we understood deep within ourselves that we are all variations of Africans!

But, of course, the world doesn't work that way, and the recent hate email itself is a strong piece of evidence from my own life.  While it is one thing to function in society with whatever personal preferences one might have, making political statements of any sort is an entirely different issue.

It is that kind of an issue, however minor that might be, which has landed South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley in a controversy.

The Associated Press reports that in 2001, Haley listed her race as "white" on her voter registration form. State Democrats accuse her of being a fake-race opportunist in a state that is, according to the US Census poll, about 66% white (and just a tick over 1% Asian).
 Like she didn't have enough on her plate already.  And this in a state where the previous governor took quite a hike!

Of course, the news has already echoed around the world, in India:
The 39-year-old Ms. Haley is also the first Indian-American woman Governor and, after Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, is only the second from the community to occupy this post.
The local Post and Courier newspapers reported that the State Democratic Party, which obtained the public record in this regard, is asking whether her inconsistency on the card made her ineligible to vote under a new law.
State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian said whether Ms. Haley listed her race as white or not did not really matter to him but the issue was that the Governor had shown a pattern of such actions. “Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her,” Mr. Harpootlian was quoted as saying. 
 Oh well ...

The Supreme Court made it clear, back in 1932, that a person like Nikki Haley cannot claim to be white:
Courts have classified Indians as white and non-white without any real pattern until the crucial 1923 Supreme Court case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, which created the official stance to classify Indians as non-white."
Back in the days of racial segregation, this change in the classification meant, among other things:
As they became classified as non-whites, Indian Americans were banned by anti-miscegenation laws from marrying white Americans in the states of Arizona, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.[3]

Back in 1933, a Nimrata Nikki Randhawa would not have been able to marry a Michael Haley!

I suppose as much as race and ethnic issues have largely died down, they really haven't gone away.

For the record, whenever I am asked to bubble in my race/ethnicity, I go with whatever pleases me. Sometimes I am a White, sometimes an Asian, sometimes it is simply Other.  I simply don't care about that identity.

Do you ask yourself, "am I an old geezer?"

Now I know :)

Speaking of old geezers ...

Life in the fast lane? Nah! More from the grocery checkout lanes ...

"How are you today, Sriram?" greeted the checkout cashier, "R." 

I have known R for a few years now.  All I know about him, and all he knows about me, are from the one-minute chat we engage in as he scans and bags the items.  It is not that R is there every single time I go to the store either.  Perhaps once a fortnight on an average, over the past five or so years.  But, those minutes add up to something, I suppose.

"I am always delighted you remember my name, R" I said.

R explained that he developed a mnemonic to remember my name, which is so common in India but so unusual on the other side of this planet.

"I tell you" I said, "this will make it difficult for me to ditch the store and go elsewhere.  I mean, there is no other store in Eugene where I will be welcomed by name."

R knows that I am a college faculty and that I have a daughter in LA.  I know he has two daughters, and one of them is a med school resident as well.  In a strange way, we have a lot in common in terms of our daughters.  Once, from this checkout conversation, I came to know that he and his wife visited with their daughter and her husband, who live across the continent on the other coast.

And then there is "K."

R is quiet, while K can be heard for miles around.  One experience with her at the counter and you walk away convinced that she doesn't care a shit about what you think about her.  A confident "I have seen it all" attitude, with fun and laughter and not with arrogance.

K has good reasons.  For instance, a few months ago, when she was scanning the items, K noticed I had picked up curry powder.  It triggered some memories in her, I think, and she said, "I love curry. I had a lot of it in Pakistan."

Surreal it was to hear about a country that was so near when I lived in India but had never visited and to listen to this woman who had been to Pakistan all the way from here.

"They always called me memsaab because of my white American skin" she chuckled.  Turned out that K had been to quite a few countries.  I suspect that she was with the US military, but why ask questions!

Another middle-aged cashier from the adjacent counter walked over to her and with quite a "I had no idea" look on her face asked K about Pakistan and Iran.  I picked up my bag of groceries and kept going.  Their voices slowly faded away in the background. 

Sometimes I wonder if my genuine interest in small talk at the neighborhood grocery store is a reflection of the village past within me.  Or even in my DNA? Or both.  In Sengottai, grandma would send me on grocery errands and all I had to do at the store was to identify myself as the grandson of Narayani Ammal.  The irony though is that grandma herself rarely went to any store in town, primarily because of her widowhood.  But the store folks knew her and her family--including this grandson.

Even in Madras, the grocery store guy seemed to know all about us, and dad and mom knew about his family too.  Which is why it didn't surprise me one bit that the store owner, too, was invited to my sister's wedding!

Either way, whether it is the literal DNA or the environment that nurtured me, this is one behavioral quirk that I am glad is within me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So, ... you really want to go on to graduate school?

When I was relatively new to the neighborhood where I live, a neighbor remarked that becoming a college professor did not come with the economic returns that one might normally expect, particularly when you factor in the subsistence lifestyle in the long years between the undergraduate degree and the full-time academic position.

"One needs to be independently wealthy or should have a spouse who earns, and earns a lot" he added.  We both agreed on this--I from my own experience, and he was basing it on his son's.

Over the years, I am all the more convinced that I don't belong anywhere else but in academe but, at the same time, make sure that I warn any interested student about the realities of graduate school and academia itself. 

William Pannapacker, who writes about many of these aspects of higher education at the Chronicle, has a piece at Slate, where he writes about the need to "remind undergraduates that most of them are out of their freaking minds if they are considering graduate school"
I can only recommend graduate school in the humanities—and, increasingly, the social sciences and sciences—if you are independently wealthy, well-connected in the field you plan to enter (e.g., your mom is the president of an Ivy League university), or earning a credential to advance in a position you already hold, such as a high-school teacher, and even then, a master's degree is enough. 
 Of course, truth-telling of any sort doesn't earn friends.

But, that never stops me, right?

What might "The Simpsons" have to say about graduate school?

Not convinced yet about graduate school?  Ok, how about this one:

On the sight of a young woman crying ...

I walked up to the express checkout lane at the local grocery store where I have shopped ever since the move to Eugene.  As I prepared myself for the casual chit-chat that has become my habit--a very American trait, I think--I was caught flatfooted by what I saw: one young female cashier was consoling another who was uncontrollably sobbing.

I have known them both from the checkout hellos over the past few years.  The one who was crying is a final year student at the university here--again, a very American thing to juggle quite a few balls at a young age, unlike me who was nothing but a loafer when I was an undergrad back in India. An energetic and eager young woman she always was.

Life is awful in that it makes sufferers even out of cheerful youth.  The young are supposed to be happy, and the old draw strength from that.  It becomes a rotten life when otherwise.

With tears flowing, she returned to her checkout counter, while the young woman at my lane said hi to me and started scanning my purchases.

I walked over to the crying girl and said "I am sorry it didn't turn out well."

That was the best I could do.  I have no idea what the "it" was and that doesn't matter to me either.

Through her red and watery eyes, and even as she got ready for another shopper in her lane, she said "thanks."

I returned to the counter where by then the other cashier had finished tallying up my bill.

"I have never seen her with anything but a cheerful appearance.  This is so sad" I told her.

"Yes" she replied.

I paid and left.

This was five days ago, and I have not been able to get over this.  I was at the store yesterday and no sign of that young clerk.  I am hoping it was her day off and not anything else.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why rush to accuracy when ...

One heck of a good looking foreign minister ... best yet?

What a wonderful transformation over the years ... from the likes of Henry Kissinger to ... no, I am not referring to Hillary Clinton, but Pakistan's foreign minister:

Caption at the source:
The new Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on arrival in New Delhi, on Tuesday. While leaving Islamabad, she said re-engagement was better than no engagement.

Scary chart of the day: Youth unemployment

Outsourced to the Economist:

Notice how much closer the US is to the Eurozone average, and how much below that average Germany is?

BTW, I wonder how much the Germans are kicking themselves for having been so enthusiastic about a common currency:
the truth is dawning in Germany that although hard-pressed taxpayers will not have to pick up the whole price of the new €159 billion refinancing package, they face instead a future of indefinite help to the single currency's weaker and more profligate economies - the cost of a more integrated core of Europe.
While the report says that Germans are split on this issue, I like this anecdotal point:
Ronny Nickel, 61, a construction worker, shook his head in disapproval. "To help them once is OK. But not again and again. We pour money into their system but no one knows where it is going.
"In Greece you can retire young, but we work until we are 67. It's not right. And it's dominoes – they are all falling."
His son Jeremy, 20, an apprentice metal worker, nodded. "What upsets me is that they call us Nazis," he said, showing a newspaper report of how the German consulate in the Greek city of Thessaloniki had been painted with swastikas by protesters.
"That was way before I was born. We've only just stopped paying for the First World War, and it's not right that my generation should be labelled with this too. I used to be very pro Europe, but not any more."

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Middle-Man v. the Orange Man. We all lose :(

There I was reading Eliot Spitzers' column where he writes that back in December 2010 President Obama had a wonderful opportunity:
why, as a condition for extending the Bush tax cuts, which President Obama repeatedly said he opposed, did he not require the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling then? Why didn't he make raising the debt ceiling part of the transaction that extended the Bush tax cuts? Why did he give the Republicans a second bite at the apple, cutting the revenue first, and then a chance to hold the government hostage again in the summer. 
As much as I agreed with him, it felt oddly familiar.

Could it be that Spitzer was working off this satirical comic strip with Obama as the incredible "Middle-Man" ...?

Oh well ... in any case, looks like there are more and more fleeing the Obama ship.

To those couple of people who back in 2008 tried to convince me that Obama is the man, I have only four words for you: "I told you so"

Robert Reich reminds us who the ultimate losers will be thanks to President Pushover and the Tea Party Lunatics:

As more and more Americans lose faith that their government can do anything to bring back jobs and wages, they are becoming more susceptible to the Republican’s oft-repeated lie that the problem is government — that if we shrink government, jobs will return, wages will rise, and it will be morning in America again. And as Democrats, from the President on down, refuse to talk about jobs and wages, but instead play the deficit-reduction game, they give even more legitimacy to this lie and more momentum to this vicious political cycle.
The parallel universes are about to crash, and average Americans will be all the worse for it.

To ruin or not to ruin? The economy, that is. Congress undecided.

The IMF and other global agents are now beginning to panic.

More on this, and other updates, from America's Finest News Source:

Ruin The Economy Or Not? Congress Still Unable To Decide

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shut up and sign the fucking form!

A couple of years ago, dad was surprised when I briefly mentioned to him that I had to deal with a lot of crap at work because I was not a member of the union.  (For the record, I have never been a member of any union.)

He didn't seem to worry that much that my professional life was being screwed because of this refusal on my part to carry the card and embrace the "comrades."  But then I had spared him the gory details anyway.

Dad's only response was "college professors have unions in America?"

I laughed, and left it at that.

It wasn't until my third year, by when I had already been tenured (thankfully,) that the union's membership VP walked into my office with a bunch of papers.

"Sriram, we didn't realize you hadn't signed up" he said in his usual loud voice.  "I have the form here for you."

I thanked him and refused.

He said that all the rest of the Division faculty were members.

I acknowledged that information.  But, was firm and made it clear that I didn't want to join the union.

I suppose that was the day all hell broke loose, and life has not been the same since then!

So, why write about that seven years later?

I was flicking through the channels on the telly, and watched a few minutes of John Candy and Eugene Levy in "Armed and Dangerous."  The scene I watched was hilarious.  You will see why that scene, which I have embedded here, reminded me of this incident from seven years ago!  "Shut up" indeed!

More on the failed "War on Terror"

It is such a relief to read commentaries by Glenn Greenwald and Christopher Hitchens, a day after writing that the Norwegian terror attack reveals the hollowness of our obsession with wiping out terror and linking terrorist acts with Islamism and al-Qaeda.

Hitchens opens thus:
Having had 16 years to reflect since Oklahoma City, we should really have become a little more refined in our rapid-response diagnoses of anti-civilian mass murder.
But, of course, as Greenwald also documents, there was an insane rush to concluding that the Oslo massacre was somehow linked to Islamic terrorists and al-Qaeda.

Greenwald, who has been writing for years now against this "War on Terror" and the atrociousness of naming a violent activity as terrorism only when the agent is a Muslim, writes:
Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target.  Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn't Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn't).  As Maz Hussain -- whose lengthy Twitter commentary on this event yesterday was superb and well worth reading -- put it:

That Terrorism means nothing more than violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes has been proven repeatedly.  ... [As] NYU's Remi Brulin has extensively documented, Terrorism is the most meaningless, and therefore the most manipulated, word in the English language.  Yesterday provided yet another sterling example.
The Norwegian mass murder ought to have convinced us once and for all that there is no winnable war on terror.

Among the Muslims who have been sidelined because of our baseless and shameful obsession with Islamic terrorists are the ones who have been suffering through the Arab Spring, which is now well into a summer of discontent.  Hitchens points out:
Meanwhile, the streets and squares of Syria and the committees of the Libyan civic opposition fill up with eager and anxious people who want to know if they have been naive to place their bets—in some cases to wager their lives—on democratic transition, peaceful tactics, the transparent allocation of previously stolen funds for long-overdue reconstruction, and the removal of a parasitic military and police caste.
How awful in the manner in which we are messing with people!  Were politicians and pundits always this terrible?

Debtageddon, Debtocalypse, and President Pushover

It was initially disappointing to read Paul Krugman's note that an article in the NYRB about "President Pushover" was not online yet.  I tried anyway; it was online. When I went back to Krugman's blog, he had already updated it.  Man, does this guy eat and sleep and take bathroom breaks at all?

Why is that essay in the NYRB so good?  Because it recaps how we are now only a couple of days away from the default deadline and there is no deal yet on the debt ceiling.  (I heard a funny line on NPR yesterday: most Americans think that raising the debt ceiling will make it harder for them to paint!)  And has sentences like the following:
Boehner hadn’t realized at first that he’d have so many Republican defectors—fifty-four—who voted against the continuing resolution he’d negotiated with Obama in early April, on the ground that it didn’t cut spending enough, though Boehner had, in effect, taken Obama to the cleaners. This established in both Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds the thought that Obama was a weak negotiator—a “pushover.” He was more widely seen among Democrats and other close observers as having a strategy of starting near where he thinks the Republicans are—at the fifty-yard line—and then moving closer to their position.
 And this:
In early July, when Obama suddenly injected Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid into the deficit and debt negotiations, many, perhaps most, Democrats were dismayed. They believed that the President was offering up the poor and the needy as a negotiating gambit. (His position was that if the Republicans would give on taxes, he’d give on entitlements.) A bewildered Pelosi said after that meeting, “He calls this a Grand Bargain?”
So, why did President Pushover, er, Obama wimp out so fast?
It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less.
The other side is hostage to the Tea Party and their maniacal single-minded ideological framework that is disconnected from reality:
The antitax dogma of the Republican Party is strongly rooted in mythology. The theory that tax cuts create jobs has been discredited by the results of George Bush’s tax policies. The Republicans cling to the myth that “small business” owners are the “job creators,” and so they oppose proposals to eliminate the Bush rate cuts for even those earning over $250,000. But relatively few small business owners earn $250,000—in fact, fewer than 3 percent of the 20 million people who file business income on their personal tax forms (the 1040s) earn that much.
Why does the Tea Party have so much of a sway over the Republicans anyway?

The Tea Party’s strength was larger than its numbers—about eighty in the House and as few as four in the Senate—because the entire House Republican freshman class and some more senior members were sympathetic to its views, and because the ghost of Bob Bennett now haunts many Republicans. Bennett (still alive), a solid conservative three-term senator from Utah, was, astonishingly, rejected for reelection last year by the Utah Republican caucus for having been insufficiently pure in his conservatism. (His vote in 2006 against a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning was seen as heresy.)
If Bob Bennett could be dumped, no one was safe. Boehner himself was facing a possible primary challenge. Some Tea Party members dug in on the debt ceiling because they, too, feared attacks or challenges, principally from people who would accuse them of not forcing sufficient cuts or of failing to keep their pledge not to raise the debt limit.
So, a wimpy president + lunatics who have taken over the asylum = the crisis where we are now.

Here is to hoping that Churchill was correct when he observed that Americans will do the right thing, once they have exhausted all the alternatives!

It was way hotter then. And without air conditioning.

These being the hotter months of Chennai, where the three seasons are hot, hotter and hottest, practically every conversation with dad is punctuated with his comments on how hot it is, and how much dad and mom have to rely on air conditioning to get through the day.

"Maybe it is because I am getting older that I am not able to take this heat" dad often adds.

At least there is air conditioning, and they are able to pay for it.

Life, as I recall my younger days, was rarely not hot in the industrial town of Neyveli.  Relatives coming from other places, including Madras (as Chennai was known then,) would comment on the blistering heat in Neyveli.  But, as kids, who grew up with it, we didn't know any better.  I don't ever recall knowing the temperature outside because it really didn't matter.  I biked, played, and even sat under the trees to read books, during those hot, hot days.

Most summers were at grandmothers' places--Sengottai and Pattamadai.  And every time we returned to Neyveli, dad's first few comments were directed at mom for having let us run around in the sun.  And with every passing year, my grandmothers and aunts kept commenting that I was getting darker and darker.  Of course, I was getting more and more tanned--who wouldn't when out in the sun, and staying put indoor was not an option for me, and even now is not!

Those were the days when there was no air conditioning available.  To most of us, going to an air conditioned movie hall was a thrill.  But, even this enjoyment was only during any visit to Madras--the only movie hall in Neyveli was not air conditioned.

Air conditioning has dramatically changed our relationship with heat.  Summer has barely crept in here in Oregon and my neighborhood hums in the afternoons with the sound of air conditioning units.  An irony, when we are the same people waiting and waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds and the rains that overwhelm and depress us for a good chunk of the year.

Air conditioning, which is an early-twentieth century innovation, is perhaps one of the easiest measures of affluence.
Data on air conditioning in the developing world is scarce, but it's safe to say most Africans and South Asians still make do without it. A recent Times of India article on how to stay cool in summer recommended wearing linens and drinking lots of fluids to avoid heat stroke. The modern Indian version of iced tea on the front porch? Nimbu paani from a street cart.
The American South, with its heat and humidity that made living there quite a hassle, might not have experienced the rapid grown in the post-WWII decades if it were not for air conditioning.  As the Economist pointed out a few years ago, "the South became suddenly more comfortable to live and work in."

The friends and relatives who live in the Persian Gulf countries know the heat all too well.  It is interesting to hear them complain about the heat in Chennai though.  They do have a point: while working and living as professionals in the Middle East, they rarely step outside the climate-controlled environments.  "We go from air-conditioned homes, by air-conditioned cars, to air-conditioned offices or malls" is their typical explanation.

Of course, that is for life as professionals out in the deserts.  It is a harsh life for those laboring at construction sites--this is the cheap and exploited labor that makes possible those homes and offices and malls to exist.  When the recession hit, this labor, especially the undocumented. suffered:
hundreds of laid-off migrant workers were stranded in labor camps without electricity or running water for months on end after their Dubai-based employers closed; some had to fight off rats while sleeping amid garbage heaps
Meanwhile, scientists keep reminding us that the planet is getting hotter.  To make things worse, the urban heat island effect seems to amplify the temperature--I feel it every time I visit Chennai. 

I wonder if the kids in Neyveli now think that all this talk about the heat is bizarre, as much as I never gave t a thought back in the day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How did the deficit get this big?

Like so:

More here

And, yet, defense expenditures are off the table!

"That was what you did. You died." Tenente lives. War goes on.

A few days back, I read the final words of A Farewell to Arms. (prior posts here and here.)

Felt so empty inside when it ended that I had to wait out a couple of days before blogging this. 

Hemingway simply sucked everything out of me with the anti-war story where the American protagonist signs up to serve in the medical corps of the Italian army in order to fight the good war, ends up deserting that only to have the military come after him because of his AWOL status as an officer, flees to neutral Switzerland with his British "wife" who is pregnant ... and then Hemingway lets the wife die after a difficult birth of a stillborn child. That is simply too cruel!

... So, that was it. The baby was dead. That was why the doctor looked so tired. But why had they acted the way they did in the room with him? They supposed he would come around and start breathing probably. I had no religion but I knew he ought to have been baptized. But what if he never breathed at all. He hadn't. He had never been alive. Except in Catherine. I'd felt him kick there often enough. But I hadn't for a week. Maybe he was choked all the time. Poor little kid. I wished the hell I'd been choked like that. No I didn't. Sill there would not be all this dying to go through. Now Catherine would die. That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they kileld you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.

It was like how I used to feel after watching one of those older Malayalam movies back in India.  Those days, one could expect nothing but tragedies in those movies, and the cynical joke was that not only the hero and the heroine but the dog also died!

I suppose the consolation is that Tenente survives it all.
After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

Caption at the source:
MORA DE EBRO, Spain—Hemingway on the front lines with members of Gen. Enrique Lister’s Loyalist 5th Regiment who were holding out against Gen. Franco's offensive, Nov. 5, 1937.

If only alternatives were any better, we would send Obama packing!

Of course, my rantings here don't influence a damn thing (editor: have you forgotten the hate email, which is proof that there are people who read what you write?)

Therefore, it is all the more a consolation when I find that the likes of Krugman and Stiglitz and Sachs and ... write about these in ways that are far, far, far more influential. Here is Sachs (ht):
[At] every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. ... Obama is on the verge of abandoning the poor and middle class, by agreeing with the plutocrats in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and discretionary civilian spending, while protecting the military and the low tax rates on the rich (if not lowering those top tax rates further according to the secret machinations of the Gang of Six, now endorsed by the president!)
 If everything--including social security--is on the table, why then is military off the table?  On a special velvet-cushion chair all by itself?  Sipping a martini while expenditures over at the civil society are being shredded?

As Congressman Barney Frank said:
Scoffing at the suggestion that “everything is on the table’’ in budget negotiations between the Obama administration and congressional leaders, Frank said, “The military budget is not on the table. The military is at the table, and it is eating everybody else’s lunch.’’
A double-martini lunch, indeed!

How much do we spend on the military?

The "war on terror" is a failure

The Economist has a neat way of summarizing the Norway terrorism:
Relative to Norway’s population, the two attacks taken together are of a similar magnitude to the September 11th hijackings in the United States.
Norway's dead from the twin attacks are proportionally worse, strictly on the basis of population.  Norway has a shade under five million people, while the US is home to more than sixty times that number.

Soon after the news of the explosion, pundits were theorizing about Islamic fundamentalist militants and even Kurdish and Uighur elements.  When, as was the case in the Oklahoma City violence, it was "home-grown" terrorism. 

Apparently this extreme right winger boasted about having been in contact with the English Defence League.  Thanks to the New Yorker's profile of this outfit and its leader, only a couple of weeks ago, I can understand why the EDL might have such fanatics. 

One of the many aspects of this atrocious violence in Oslo is that the Bush/Cheney "War or Terror" as a response to 9/11 was one of the worst things they could have done.  And for Obama to continue to wage that war against terror, as if it is something like an identifiable army that can be defeated, is a tragedy.

I am all the more reminded of the television program I watched when I was in India a couple of years ago.  It was in one of those news channels, and was a talk show featuring some wannabe public intellectuals.  The question for this panel was this: "all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."  I had to force myself to watch it for a while.  It was awful to hear most of them assert that all terrorists are Muslims.

They conveniently forgot all kinds of non-Islamic terrorism within India's borders alone, leave alone the rest of the world.  Two prime ministers were assassinated, and neither was caused by terrorists who were Muslims.  Indira Gandhi was felled by bullets fired by a Sikh, and Rajiv Gandhi was blown to pieces by a Srilankan Tamil suicide bomber.  In contemporary India, Maoist guerrillas use violence, and these are not driven by any religion, Islam or otherwise.

Yet, there was only the Islamic terrorism that was discussed.

It seems to be a similar story in the rest of the world, and definitely in the West.  Even when unfortunate events like in Oslo repeatedly point out that terrorism comes in all flavors.

A rational rethink might then question the War on Terror that the US continues to fight.  But, apparently not.

A violent crime proportionally greater in magnitude than the 9/11 event.  I recall being depressed for a few days after that happened.   I can't begin to imagine the emotions among Norwegians now ...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Terrorism in Oslo :(

How terrible! 
Raw footage from The Daily Beast:

Correction: Not George Obama, but Barack Nixon?

Looks like today I can't get away from wondering why Republicans are so upset with President Obama when he has been a better conservative than many of the past Republican presidents themselves! 

Here is Bruce Bartlett making the case:
Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.
Here are a few examples of Obama's effective conservatism:

  • His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
  • He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
  • He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
  • He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
  • And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

Further evidence can be found in the writings of outspoken liberals such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has condemned Obama’s conservatism ever since he took office
Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.
It is reflection of the Faux-Noose stupidity that the conservative Obama is labeled a socialist!

I don't think there is any political future for us Libertarian-Democrats :(

War uninterrupted, under Barack O'Bush. Or is it George Obama?

The best way to settle this: we will call them Tweedledum and Tweedledee!

Up until the 2008 elections, progressives were furious with President Bush for dragging the country not only into Iraq, but into a War on Terror.  Candidate, Senator Obama promised hope and change.  "We are the ones we have been waiting for" the messiah proclaimed.

That was the story then.

Three years later?

We are very much there in Afghanistan.

We will continue to have a significant presence in Iraq for generations more, it seems like. 
Afghanistan? Better not to even talk about it anymore.
The drone attacks in Pakistan have vastly increased under Obama

As if these are not enough to worry us over the what has turned out to be the third term of President Bush, the War on Terror has been increased in its geographic reach

According to The Nation:
As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners.
I suppose the advantage that Obama has over Bush is this: as a constitutional law professor, Obama doesn't need any minions like Yoo to write legal briefs and make arguments in favor of his monarchy.

Thus, under O'Bush, we have expanded military operations in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.

Would you then hypothesize that the US is more popular in the Arab World after the election of Obama, or Was Bush's America more popular?

Glenn Greenwald answers:
A new poll released today of six Arab nations -- Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco -- contains even worse news on this front:

The hope that the Arab world had not long ago put in the United States and President Obama has all but evaporated.
Two and a half years after Obama came to office, raising expectations for change among many in the Arab world, favorable ratings of the United States have plummeted in the Middle East, according to a new poll conducted by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation.
In most countries surveyed, favorable attitudes toward the United States dropped to levels lower than they were during the last year of the Bush administration . . . Pollsters began their work shortly after a major speech Obama gave on the Middle East . . . Fewer than 10 percent of respondents described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama.
What's striking is that none of these is among the growing list of countries we're occupying and bombing.  Indeed, several are considered among the more moderate and U.S.-friendly nations in that region, at least relatively speaking.  Yet even in this group of nations, anti-U.S. sentiment is at dangerously (even unprecedentedly) high levels.
 Hey liberals, progressives, Democrats, whatever you call yourselves ... happy now?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pervez Musharraf ... he is baaaack on The Daily Show :)

Ah, remember that wonderful interview back when the world wanted to know where Osama bin Laden was?  No?  You can always revisit that later.

For now, watch Musharraf talking with Jon Stewart three months after the death of OBL:

And it continues:

More on utilitarianism in education policies

After reading my post on whether the utilitarian cost-benefit analysis that governs government policies killed liberal education, a high school classmate, "J," who lives and teaches in India comments:

Dickens' 'Hard Times' speaks exactly about this kind of utilitarianism in Education. It is a pity that we are still facing the crisis more than a century later.
Not only it is apt, I would think it is worse--utilitarian calculations seem to govern everything now.

"J" also provides this lengthy excerpt from Hard Times:
... Mr and Mrs M’Choakumchild never make any mistakes themselves, I suppose, Sissy?’

‘O no!’ she eagerly returned. ‘They know everything.’

‘Tell me some of your mistakes.’

‘I am almost ashamed,’ said Sissy, with reluctance. ‘But today, for instance, Mr M’Choakumchild was explaining to us about Natural Prosperity.’

‘National, I think it must have been,’ observed Louisa.

‘Yes, it was. — But isn’t it the same?’ she timidly asked.

‘You had better say, National, as he said so,’ returned Louisa, with her dry reserve.

‘National Prosperity. And he said, Now, this schoolroom is a Nation. And in this nation, there are fifty millions of money. Isn’t this a prosperous nation? Girl number twenty, isn’t this a prosperous nation, and a’n’t you in a thriving state?’

‘What did you say?’ asked Louisa.

‘Miss Louisa, I said I didn’t know. I thought I couldn’t know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was in a thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all,’ said Sissy, wiping her eyes.

‘That was a great mistake of yours,’ observed Louisa.

‘Yes, Miss Louisa, I know it was, now. Then Mr M’Choakumchild said he would try me again. And he said, This schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million of inhabitants, and only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets, in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my remark was — for I couldn’t think of a better one — that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million. And that was wrong, too.’

‘Of course it was.’

‘Then Mr M’Choakumchild said he would try me once more. And he said, Here are the stutterings — ’

‘Statistics,’ said Louisa.

‘Yes, Miss Louisa — they always remind me of stutterings, and that’s another of my mistakes — of accidents upon the sea. And I find (Mr M’Choakumchild said) that in a given time a hundred thousand persons went to sea on long voyages, and only five hundred of them were drowned or burnt to death. What is the percentage? And I said, Miss;’ here Sissy fairly sobbed as confessing with extreme contrition to her greatest error; ‘I said it was nothing.’

‘Nothing, Sissy?’

‘Nothing, Miss — to the relations and friends of the people who were killed. I shall never learn,’ said Sissy. ‘And the worst of all is, that although my poor father wished me so much to learn, and although I am so anxious to learn, because he wished me to, I am afraid I don’t like it.’

Hard Times by Charles Dickens, that is. 

Not to be confused with the 1975 movie by the same name

Though, it does seem like the movie, which is set in the Great Depression era, is also apt for now--when we are still struggling with the Great Recession's aftershocks:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Japan beats USA in soccer final. GOP reaction?

Meanwhile, an update on the "real" football:

Debt Ceiling: Money talks and bullshit walks!

Forget the pundits and politicians--the best analysis is in the videos here :)

The Senior Economic Analyst explains the importance of this: we will soon hit the bullshit ceiling!

Well, here is the walking bullshit meter, Professor Harry Frankfurt, who postulated that bullshit will only keep increasing :(

Did government kill liberal education?

As I noted in an opinion piece a few weeks ago:
Education, for the longest time, was not about credentialing for the trades. As one looks back to the days of gurukula in India or Plato's academy, it becomes clear that education was simply about knowing. Preparations for the trades and professions happened elsewhere.
The broadening of higher education opportunities, through state involvement, for a lot more in society--not merely to the affluent--was, of course, the right thing to do.  Not for the instrumental and utilitarian logic that it delivered economic benefits, but because having a population that thinks a lot more is better than otherwise.

However, did this cause, or at least hasten, the death of liberal education?

A few decades ago, when higher education was not linked to explicit training for the professions, As John Armstrong notes, one might have studied:
the classics at Oxford and Cambridge and go on to be a merchant banker because the institutions have such prestige that being educated there is seen as a sign of high calibre; also, the guy hiring at the bank went to Oxford.
In this approach to higher education, academics didn't have to worry about the liberal education they lived and breathed.

The involvement of the state, however, means that taxpayer subsidies have to be justified.  It does not take a doctorate in logic to figure out how quickly then we descended into a utilitarian framework on the worth of higher education, resulting in colleges and universities becoming centers for job skills.

The net result is that we seem to be less interested in developing thinkers and creative people, and more "invested" in producing worker bees.

It has been an unfortunate unintended consequence.

Martha Nussbaum provides a succinct response in this context:

The world needs commerce, science and technology more than the humanities. Right or wrong?
Wrong! Even for commerce and technology to succeed, they need the humanistic imagination and the ability to think critically and rigorously.
Science at its best is closely allied to the humanities because it is creative, highly rigorous and critical. So what the world needs is an alliance between the humanities and creative basic science to foster the skills that produce good citizenship and healthy business cultures.
Armstrong seems to believe that there is a way out of this increasing marginalization of liberal education:
I am suggesting a change to well-entrenched systems; I say we have a shortfall in speaking to the public
More from Armstrong:

"If you believe something is important you should try to take it to everyone," he argues. "The humanities don't belong to the elite."
And this means presenting ideas and arguments in ways people who aren't academic experts can grasp, of ideas-merchants selling the ideas they stand for, not just talking to each other.
"The marketplace of ideas is a marketplace," he says.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Did Larry Summers really say that about FDR? Yes, he did!

Quick question: was the US economic recovery after the Great Depression a result of FDR's economic policies?

Larry Summers provides the answer (ht) play the embedded video here--it will start from where I have bookmarked.  Watch and listen for a minute-plus at least.

Did the "H" word in his response creep you out? The way Summers lays it out?

Love-hate relationship with Facebook, and technology itself

Quite a few months ago, I informed my Facebook friends (editor: what? you have friends? awshutupalready!) that I was temporarily freezing my account and activities.  There is a kind of creepy feeling and shallow interactions that bothered me.

After a blissful existence in the world outside of Facebook, I am now back there again.  However, every single day, there is an urge within me to quit Facebook for the same reasons as before.  A couple of days ago, in an email to a friend (editor: stop lying. awshutupalready!) "There are moments when I worry about all this social media network and the internet ..."

But, I realize I can't quit Facebook--it is not any addiction on my part.  Facebook has, after all, made it easy for me to share old photos with family and friends, and to take in what they have to offer. Every once in a while there is feedback on my blog posts that are automatically routed into Facebook, and the feedback has often led to substantive discussions and learning.  And a lot more. 

I feel like the heroine in the formulaic Bollywood movies who alternates between yelling "I hate you" to the hero and "I love you" a few minutes after that!

But then this love-hate relationship with so many aspects of technology is not new to me.  Not at all.

As much as I am big time technology consumer (within my budgetary constraints, that is,) I way prefer, for instance, the paper-book in my hand instead of reading it on Kindle.  Reading the New Yorker magazine even when I get annoyed with the gazillion subscription cards is a lot more of an enjoyable experience than reading it on the computer monitor.  Heck, even playing the old vinly LPs is immensely more pleasurable then listening to Pandora. (Well, Pandora is a tough call--I do enjoy the new music that it offers me based on its understanding of my music tastes.)

These personal preferences though are trivial compared to my worries about the role that such rapidly evolving technology has on kids and youth.  In my classes, for instance, I tell students that they are adults and that, therefore, it is not my responsibility to instruct them what not to do in the classroom, as long as whatever they do doesn't distract fellow students or me from the activities that bring us together in that room.  Thus, I ignore students who seem place their smartphones on the desks and spend a lot more time and attention responding to messages there instead of focusing on the discussions in class. 

But, do/should technology developers worry about the broader ramifications?  Or, as Isaac Asimov noted about science, there is no way but onwards?

Reading the New Yoker's profile of Jaron Lanier (subscription required) and Lanier's comments there, made me feel all the better about my love-hate relationship with technology and my worries about its effects on the young.  Because, Lanier is infinitely more informed than me on this topic, and he seems to be a lot more worried as well. 

I then spent forty minutes watching and listening to this talk, available thanks to technology--see, my love aspect again--which is a discussion of his book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto,

Lanier makes a number of points that have always bugged me.  More than anything else, I am surprised and utterly disappointed that the internet and the Web haven't unleashed the creativity of people that seemed so promising when the primitive world wide web grew up to web2.0.  Instead, whether it is students engaging in awful shortcuts to learning--plagiarism made simple--or people posting video clips of cats playing the piano, we seem to have only facilitated laziness and shallow interactions with ideas and people.  Instead of creative people working with their brains, it seems equally possible that the kids and youth of today could become more like human automatons.

Lanier argues that the nearly two decades worth of data since the birth of the www ought to make us pause and think about what kind a future we want to have:
I'm disappointed with the way the Internet has gone in the past ten years" ... "I've aways felt that he human-centered approach to computer science leads to more interesting, more exotic, more wild, and more heroic adventures than the machine-supremacy approach, where information is the highest goal.

BTW, Lanier's observations on Facebook resonate well with me--he says that the older folks get Facebook and the young don't.  Amen!

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